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I'm currently getting thru a PPL course book and I don't understand this. Is there any purpose of sending NOTAMs in this format:

"RWY 08R/26L DUE WIP NO CENTRELINE, TDZ OR SALS LIGHTING AVBL"

instead of plain language

"For runway 08/26, due to work in progress, there is no centreline, touchdown zone or simple approach lighting available"

Why do they force pilots to learn common ICAO abbreviations when they could simply send the text message without encoding it? The same questions goes for TAFs and METARs.

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    $\begingroup$ @mins automated processing of NOTAMs is still not common, AFAIK, that's why FAA/EUROCONTROL have proposed the DigiNotam standard $\endgroup$ – Federico Apr 7 '17 at 8:06
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    $\begingroup$ Related, some of the general comments about adoption and existing technology apply to NOTAMs too. It's also not obvious what "plain language" should mean, especially in an international, multi-lingual environment. Abbreviations and professional jargon in general tend to be precise and compact, even if they do require a learning curve. This isn't unique to aviation, of course. $\endgroup$ – Pondlife Apr 7 '17 at 15:36
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    $\begingroup$ @ParadigmPilot I think this is getting off-topic for this site, but every professional activity I can think of uses a lot of abbreviations. They exist for a reason, after all, and aviation is no different from anything else. $\endgroup$ – Pondlife Mar 4 '18 at 19:02
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    $\begingroup$ In 1969 when I first started visiting my local airport weather bureau for flight briefings (yes, weather briefings were done in person by weather bureau personnel), it was a noisy place right after the turn of the hour what with all those teletypewriters clacking away printing the METARS, TAFS, and what not on to rolls of paper that collected on the floor behind each machine. Had it not been been for the abbreviations, I think it possible that they would not have completed one hour's reports before the next hour came. $\endgroup$ – Terry Jan 16 '19 at 19:46
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    $\begingroup$ You object to abbreviating "runway" to "rwy" but you happily say "I'm" and "don't". Some level of abbreviation actually improves communication. (Meanwhile, in the land of personal taste, I'd say that the NOTAM is excessively abbreviated but your "plain language" version is excessively verbose.) $\endgroup$ – David Richerby Jan 16 '19 at 21:22
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The NOTAM format is from the time when people still would call the value of individual bits over a phone line.

Ok, that may not have happened, but my point is that data transfer was incredibly slow compared to current day standards. Therefore a compact format saved significant transmission time and cost without losing any information. The format didn't change since.

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  • $\begingroup$ why it's not changing? $\endgroup$ – Electric Pilot Mar 2 '18 at 16:59
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    $\begingroup$ @Electric Pilot: If it ain't broke, don't fix it? Everyone in aviation understands the current format: sswitching to a new one would cause confusion. $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Jan 16 '19 at 19:26
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    $\begingroup$ @ElectricPilot automated processing and generation of the messages for one thing. Ease of copying them out as shorthand while receiving them over the radio as well. $\endgroup$ – jwenting Jan 17 '19 at 8:25
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1 - It's always been done that way.

2 - You'd be surprised how many government computer systems are still using ancient hardware and operating systems.

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  • $\begingroup$ 3 - no real need to except people wanting to be fancy. $\endgroup$ – jwenting Jan 17 '19 at 8:26
  • $\begingroup$ and yes, I can attest to old systems remaining in use well past their sell-by date, not just in governments but any large organisation. Many are too large and central to business processes to replace without major effort. $\endgroup$ – jwenting Jan 17 '19 at 8:27
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As I understand your question is mainly about line E of a NOTAM, right? Well, this one is in fact meant to use 'plain' English language, in contrast to all other lines, where location and reach as well as type and urgency and duration is encoded.

Just, as it already has been mentioned, NOTAMs originate in a time when transmission speed was unimaginable slow by todays standards. So the answer is rather IT related ... sone age IT that is. Standard transmission speed back then was 45 Baud, thats 45 bit per second - with lots of pauses added for feed and other functions, resulting in an effective transmission speed of less than 8 characters per second (*1).

Already the lines before line E contain anywhere between 150 to 200 characters, thus requiring some 25 seconds to transmit. The E line you cite is another 60 characters, or 8 seconds. The suggestion made would now increase that to 129 characters or an additional 9 seconds. With no increase in information transmitted.

For a rough calculation it may be safe to assume 1 minute of transmission time per NOTAM. That's barley 60 per hour. And 60 is a rather low number of active NOTAMs within the reach of an aerodrome to be kept at hand for its pilots. Keep in mind, there was no internet and instant access to remote data bases at all. Everything had to be transmited ahead of time - and there where people collecting all incoming NOTAMs and filing them into folders (that's what line A supports) to be up to date and ready for flight planing.

So short message length was an essential must to make it transmitable.

It wasn't until the 1970s that the situation relaxed a bit due faster transmission - still not much, as at the same time air traffic, and related NOTAMs rose in number.

The other limit was introduced by early data processing. The E line is limited to 1200 characters at all. This (back then unimaginable hucht) limit was introduced by the size of disk block on the mainframe system used by. 2048 characters was the limit for a whole block, minus some organisational data, minus all other lines, this left 1200 bytes per NOTAM. Since some even needed more, block chaining for up to 12,000 characters was allowed - not realy liked though.

Bottom line, abbreviation was a must due the hardware available.

At the same time, these abrevations helped in understanding, the very same way we use extreme codified radio sequences for fast exchange and clear interaction. There is no doubt about the meaning, as every day language may create. This might seam strange, but it's like with any other formalized communication. No matter if its about debates in the commons or ATC communication - or in this case NOTAMs.


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There used to be a good technical reason (transmission time over low-rate modems), so everyone learned how to decode things. That original reason has long since gone away, but nearly everyone affected has already learned the code, so the short-term benefits of changing are minimal--and accrue mainly to new entrants (who have little/no power) whereas the costs would be borne by everyone.

There's also a possible "hazing" effect: if the old timers had to go through something unpleasant, then it can become a ritual part of joining the tribe, regardless of what (if any) practical value it has to newbies.

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